Senate sends higher ed funding bill to governor, social services to House (AUDIO)

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SPRINGFIELD —Millions of dollars in promised state financial aid for college students would finally arrive under a sweeping, bipartisan budget deal approved Friday by lawmakers and sent to the governor.

The deal —essentially a fiscal stopgap for students and universities teetering on crisis for nearly a year —approves spending on the state’s popular Monetary Award Program for college students and begins sending state dollars to the state’s public universities, some of which were on the verge of shutting down.

For instance, Chicago State University canceled its spring break this year to move up graduation ceremonies to next week in hopes of getting students their degrees before the school ran out of money and closed because of the lack of state support.

jones 042216“I feared next week’s commencement ceremony might be CSU’s last,” said State Senator Emil Jones III, a Chicago Democrat. “The agreement we sent to the governor today offers a lifeline to CSU and others. But make no mistake, we have a long ways to go to undo the damage that’s been done to what was once a nation-leading higher education community.”

While hailed as a major bipartisan breakthrough after more than a year of gridlock, many lawmakers pointed out that this deal is partial at best and ignores the needs of too many.

For instance, businesses across the state are responsible for providing services to the disabled, elderly and others qualifying for state assistance. The problem is the state hasn’t paid any of these businesses for months and many have begun closing their doors, laying off employees and turning away those in need.

However, lawmakers and the governor were unable to reach a final agreement on how to honor the contracts the Rauner administration signed with those businesses. But Senate Democrats pressed ahead Friday with separate legislation to pay those businesses and organizations for their work on behalf of Illinois.

“This is a start, but the governor also needs to look at legislation already on his desk and Senate Bill 2047, which the Senate passed today, that would provide higher education funding and critical relief for human services, such as cancer screenings, HIV/AIDS services and health prevention," said Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D – Maywood). “If the higher education funding legislation that passed out of the General Assembly is indeed signed into law, this is a small victory, but the leaders of our state have more work to do and should support Senate Bill 2047 going forward.”

The agreement on higher education funding now goes to the governor who can sign the deal into law or reject it with a veto. The proposal to pay social service businesses goes to the Illinois House for debate there.

Adding a bit of irony to the situation is that Democratic lawmakers already sent the governor legislation that would have allowed him to enact this deal weeks ago. A broader spending agreement including higher education, human service businesses and other programs was sent to Gov. Rauner’s desk earlier this month. However, not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for it and the political reality is that the Republican governor was unlikely to throw his party’s lawmakers under the bus by using a Democrat deal to alleviate the budget crisis.

So while the higher education deal struck Friday is essentially a mini version of what Democrats already approved, it gives Republican lawmakers and the governor the political cover they have been seeking in order to avoid blame for schools shutting down and students being forced to drop out.
Let unanswered in all of this, however, is when or if schools and businesses will get the rest of their state funding for the current year, let alone what they might expect in the next state budget year that begins July 1.

Even as the governor and many lawmakers applauded Friday’s vote as a meaningful breakthrough, key Senate Democrats continued to look at the work that remains unfinished.

sullivan sb2059“I see a lot of people patting themselves on the back for what amounts to a past-due partial plan at best. Students and workers want real answers and long-term stability rather than the chaos that’s been created the past year. They want the state to start solving problems rather than creating problems,” said Senator John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat who represents the students and workers at Western Illinois University. “Is this deal a step in the right direction? Yes. But it’s a small step that should have happened a long time ago. We’ve got a lot of work left to do in resolving the budget and restoring the public’s trust.”

“We’ve been fighting the governor since last May to keep the doors of our great institutions of learning open,” said Senator Donne Trotter, the Senate Appropriations II chairman. “Chicago State, in my own backyard, would be on the brink of closure without this funding. I am glad that my Republican counterparts, and hopefully the governor, are finally on board with helping students graduate.”

Listen to Senator Donne Trotter, Senator Heather Steans and Senator Daniel Biss address today's votes:

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Even as the governor and many lawmakers applauded Friday’s vote as a meaningful breakthrough, key Senate Democrats continued to look at the work that remains unfinished.

“The bipartisan compromises are extremely encouraging and will enable Chicago State, other struggling colleges and universities and many social services agencies to keep their doors open while we continue negotiating,” said Senator Heather Steans of Chicago, who chairs one of the Senate’s budget committees. “But it’s important to realize that while today’s action was the right step forward, it’s only the beginning of restoring Illinois to fiscal health and rebuilding our social services infrastructure. We are viewing these measures not as a destination, but as a bridge to a complete, sustainable and responsible budget.”

Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton): “I am happy that we were able to come together and get this immensely important piece of legislation done. We voted to make sure that students such as the ones who attend SIU in Edwardsville will continue to be taken care of through MAP grant funding. This funding will help SIUE to continue to attract students throughout the Midwest, and continue its role as a key economic driver within Southern Illinois. What remains frustrating is that the governor has a budget on his desk that would have already funded higher education and fixed this impasse. We cannot continue with this back and forth. The governor needs to sign the bill that is on his desk.”

The legislation would help schools like Chicago State University and Eastern Illinois University in ensuring they can continue to operate. It would also fund the first semester of MAP grants that many schools, including Saint Xavier University and Moraine Valley Community College, floated to students without any guarantee of the money coming through.

“Today, we took a vote to ensure that schools can continue to function and educate our students,” Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) said. “This is not enough, but it opens the door to continue to work in a bipartisan manner.”

Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood): I am happy and relieved that the legislature approved funding for higher education that the governor has said he will sign. But there is still more work to be done. I want to see a long-term solution that ensures students in my district don’t have to live in fear of their education being threatened by the dysfunction in Springfield. It’s also imperative that human services agencies get the funding they need to keep their doors open. Today, I voted for a proposal that included funding for programs that help seniors, the addicted and homeless. We have already gone too long and can’t wait any longer for a human services budget."

Senator Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford): “This proposal is a meaningful start at a compromise budget. It is not perfect, but it allows universities and community colleges like Rock Valley College to keep their doors open while the governor and legislative leaders continue to work toward an agreement.”

Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago): “We’ve been fighting the governor since last May to keep the doors of our colleges and human service organizations open. Today, I supported keeping colleges and vita human services afloat while we continue working on ending the budget impasse.”

Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria): “Students should be able to attend college without worrying about piling up excessive amounts of debt. Funding MAP grants and helping our public universities remain open will allow thousands of students to learn and grow in a stable environment.”

Senator Gary Forby (D-Benton): "I voted for this today because SIU is in a crisis situation. Jobs are at stake, our young people’s education is at stake, and I will not stand by and let this happen. State schools need state funding. Period. What is infuriating about this situation is that the governor has a plan on his desk that would give SIU 100 percent of the funding it needs right now. Due to his inaction we are now forced to pass emergency funds that only release 30 percent of the funds they need for the fiscal year.”

Majority Caucus Whip Iris Y. Martinez (D-Chicago): "I am glad we finally got a deal done that will get Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University and other state universities the dollars they need to provide students with a quality education. But more must be done. Our human service agencies are laying off staff and shutting the doors, but a proposal I voted for today would provide them with needed relief. Egos and personal agendas need to be set aside before Illinois human services infrastructure is destroyed and our most vulnerable populations lose the services they need."

Senator Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines): “These proposals are an investment in the nearly 1,900 students in my district who depend on MAP grants to continue their education, as well as services for those with developmental disabilities, like autism and epilepsy. They are far from perfect, but these are much-needed bipartisan compromises. I commend the legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle for finally coming together to invest in our state’s future.”

Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park): “Today the General Assembly voted for intermediate funding to offer some temporary relief for state universities and human service providers that face closure as we continue trying to find areas of compromise with Gov. Rauner. The most unfortunate part of today’s vote is that the governor has legislation on his desk that would fully fund universities and human service agencies, rather than give them just enough to keep their doors open for the short term.

“I am frustrated that the state of Illinois’ budgeting process has devolved into a system of bandages and short-term bail outs. ‘A fraction of funding is better than zero funding’ is no way to approach budgeting for state government.”